I’ve been wondering if after all these weeks you’d like to hear…
About my life.
My vacation and my kiddos and stuff that is not super important to anyone but me.
Sorry. I couldn’t resist. I’m having an Adele moment (along with the rest of the world). That song is just so darn catchy. Ammiright? Did you see the version by the adorable Korean girl? No? Pause whatever you are doing, turn up the volume and watch this right away. Do it!
But seriously Ditty…focus! You are not here to talk about Adele!
You are here to talk about you. And you are just egotistical enough to think that random people out in Internet land might actually care what you have been up to over the past few weeks, so get on with it!
December 18, 2015 was a glorious day. It marked the start of our 3-week holiday vacation; the vacation where we would be traveling back to America to stay in our brand new (to us) house in Bend, Oregon. Let’s just say that, aside from being SEVERELY and AGGRESSIVELY vomited on while on the plane (thanks Finely!), the holiday was amazing! We didn’t do anything supremely exciting; we went sledding, we hung with family, did lots of laundry (and DRIED it in a DRYER!), ate Yoplait strawberry yogurt and watched a lot of Fixer Upper episodes in our p.j.s. But these little things were so, so fun, mostly because we were doing them in OUR house. OUR VERY OWN HOUSE! It was a dream come true.
Until it ended. Which was on Friday, January 8, 2016. That is when we boarded a plane back to Beijing, which is where I am currently sitting writing this post. Back to reality. Back to the grind.
And based on some comments I have received on Facebook, back to thoroughly confusing people about our living situation. I think when we bought our Oregon house many assumed that we were moving home to the States for good. Because…duh! Why else would you buy a house? Well…friends that answer is a little complicated, so thought I would take a minute to clarify for you.
And I will mix in some vacation photos too just to keep it interesting. Let’s start with a photo of our new-to-us house:
Here she is, in all her snowy glory. Cute, huh?
Brado and I have been saving and saving to buy a house for a long time now (He would probably say that he has been saving and that I have been inventing new ways to throw money away….but whateves). The point is that finally, after years and years of saving, we felt ready to lay down some roots.
Wait. I’m getting ahead of myself…I should back up even further.
Brado and I have lived overseas for 10 (going on 11) years now. Four years in Dubai and 7 in Beijing. As is the life of an international teacher, that means that every summer and every Christmas you are off to somewhere else for your holiday break. For us, especially in recent years, our big holiday trips have been trips home to see our friends and families. It is marked by one massive international flight, many domestic flights, jet lag, baggage claim and sleeper sofas. It means renting cars, hotel rooms and/or houses. It means eating out. It means living out of a suitcase and constantly packing and repacking. With kids it means traveling with an absurd amount of toys, strollers, car seats and scooters. If you can name it…we have traveled with it.
Ten years of this. Ten years of not spending a summer in the place that we live. Ten years of being a guest at someone’s house over Christmas. Ten years.
It. Was. Exhausting.
I think it is one thing to do this for a few years when you KNOW there will be an eventual end to the madness. But when you see no end in sight, it starts to make you crazy. Or at least it did me. And the kid factor really took me over the edge.
We would roll up to our parent’s houses for a visit and literally EXPLODE clothes and toys and goldfish crumbs all over their perfectly vacuumed floors. They have always been welcoming and gracious and wonderful…but we just needed more space to properly relax.
Not only that but we were craving some level of normalcy. We wanted to be able to enroll our son in swim lessons and get into an actual workout routine. We wanted to be able to finish a jar of jelly instead of using it for a week and tossing it because it was time to go to the next location. We wanted to unpack. Even if it was only for 2 months, we wanted to just stay put.
That is why we bought a house. So that, for a sliver of the year, we would be able to live a “normal” American life.
But where to buy? I am from Virginia, Brado is from Minnesota. My parents live in South Carolina, his live in Idaho. I went to college in Knoxville, he went to college in Duluth. We met in Dubai, we live in Beijing. In other words, there was NO logical place to purchase a home. In every location, we would be sacrificing something. So we just decided to start from scratch. Neutral ground.
Our criteria for picking a city was:
We had to be able to afford it
We both had to love it
It needed to be relatively close to an airport
It needed to be accessible to outdoor activities (i.e. camping, hiking etc) and a Target (duh!)
It needed to be somewhere where friends and family would want to visit
There were a few contenders along the way: Truckee, CA (but it is pretty expensive), Seattle, WA (but it is too big and there is too much traffic) and Portland, OR (almost perfect, but a little too urban for Brado’s taste).
Bend was just the perfect fit for us. Big enough, but still has a smaller town vibe. Year-round awesome outdoor activities. Has a small airport 2o minutes away. More importantly, it has a Target! And while it is NOT cheap, you can find houses that are both nice and (somewhat) affordable. But do you know what really sold us? Bend is SO family-friendly. People in Bend LOVE children…almost as much as Asians love children. No. Not that much…but a lot! Every restaurant, activity, store etc… caters to children or parents of children. It is so refreshing (Sometime remind me to tell you my theory about Americans and children. It goes something like this: Americans hate children. Unless they are their own).
But we don’t live-live in Bend. Not yet. Right now, “home” is China.
Will we ever make the permanent move to Bend? Gosh, I don’t know.
There is a big part of me that really hopes so. We like to imagine raising our kids in a town where they have easy access to mountains and rivers and grass and fresh air. Oh…the fresh air! It is fun to think about being close(r) to family and not feeling a million miles away when someone gets married or has a baby or when fill-in-the-blank-event happens. It is fun to think about decorating a house with access to AMERICAN stores! Oh the possibilities! It overwhelms me to think that my kids would grow up knowing what is like to be FROM somewhere, instead of just an extended visitor. I like the idea of watching football games on Sunday. And not working on Thanksgiving Day. I get giddy thinking about driving a car that has a remote control door lock and reading the labels on food packaging. GIDDY! Oh…and how awesome would it be to find any ingredient I needed at basically any run-of-the-mill grocery store. Awesome, indeed.
And then I think about what we would have to give up if we were to move “home”. My guess is that Beau and Finely would gradually lose their Chinese. Our beloved ayi (their 2nd mom) would stay behind. So too would our wonderful expat community. We would say goodbye to exotic holidays in new locations and say hello to car insurance and phone bills. We would do a lot more dishes and get a lot less massages. We would be paid a lot less to do a job that would (probably) suck a lot more. We would be inundated with American politics and the 24 hour news cycle; both of which have the power to sink me into a wild depression. We would be thrown back into a culture of consumerism. One that, on many levels, I love; in the same way an addict loves opium. But one that also would force me to constantly fight my urge to buy. We would be giving our kids their American culture but they would lose that third culture; the one that, I think, makes kids super tolerant, compassionate and just kind of interesting.
I could keep going. The lists are endless. Whatever we end up doing, we stand to lose and gain so much.
And maybe that is just life. The constant process of gaining and losing. And trying to navigate the many bumpy roads in between these two extremes.
A friend of mine from high school lost her sweet little 4 year old to cancer last week. Lost. Gone. Her family’s world forever changed.
But in order to lose something, you have to have gained it first, right? True, had they never had their sweet girl they would never be experiencing the incredible pain that they are enduring right now. But had they never had their sweet girl, they also would never have known the pure joy the accompanies parenting. The type of joy that you experience when you watch your child take their first step or write their first word or make their first friend. The kind that fills you to the brim with purpose and light and forgiveness. With her presence, they gained so much.
I cannot stop thinking about their incredible loss (hence the reason why a post about my Christmas vacation has turned into a philosophical life lesson). It has affected me deeply. It has put everything properly into perspective. To honor Kate’s memory and in hopes that you may also gain something (maybe some needed perspective) from her short time on earth, I’d like to leave you with these words (written by Kate’s mama and read at her memorial). They are simply too beautiful not to share. I apologize in advance for making you cry.
Our dearest darling, Kate.
Did you know how much we love you? How many times a day did we tell you while we kissed your head? If you knew…even half as much as we hoped you would, then we did our job as your mommy and daddy. You knew, didn’t you love bug? You knew we were trying to make you better – hoping to get you to feel well again? We did everything we could. The doctors and nurses who loved you worked tirelessly to help you. It was just too much.
We always wanted to be your mommy and daddy, you know. We dreamed of who you would become, what music you would like and who your first crush would be. I was secretly excited to find out who your favorite first boy band would be so that I could pretend to buy their music…”for you.” We wondered how you would like school. Would you be athletic or studious? Where might you go to college and what would you study? This nightmare of never knowing who you will grow up to be will haunt us for the rest of our lives. Forever 4, they say.
Since 4 is the forever we were given, I’d say it was a mighty fine 4. And without even knowing it, we spent the last four months building one heck of a lifetime together. We made up for lost time then, didn’t we baby girl? Adventures, plans, trips, traditions…we wanted to show you the life we knew you were destined to live. We just didn’t know the beginning was also to be the end.
KitKat, we promise that your life will be remembered for the cheerful, bubbly way you lived and that your beautiful spirit will be with us forever. We will travel with you. Take you with us on the adventures we promised. We will live the life FOR you that we WANTED for you. And together with Kate’s Krew, we will not let your passing be in vain. We will FIND A WAY to help other children and families in our community in your beautiful name. Together, we will make a difference.
Your daddy & I love you beyond the moon and all the stars. Four zillion, thirty billion and eighty seven thousand as you would say. God only knows how we will get along without your sweet face, adorable voice and cheeky grin. When you see him, ask if he has any pointers on that. Then come by and share them with us. Maybe through a pretty snowfall out back this winter, a breezy day “hammocking” this spring, in the smell of the honeysuckle you loved in our back yard this summer…or as a beautiful fox in our front yard. Come visit baby. We know you can’t stay. Just promise you’ll come.
Kate, you are our greatest adventure. Our very best friend. Our one true love and our whole heart. If we do nothing worthy for the remainder of our days, we will die in complete and total peace knowing that YOU were our life.
Now there are no tubies, no pain. No fear, no hospitals, no machines and no more of what made you feel so sick for half of your life. Now, may you run free on strong and fast legs, read until your hearts’ content with perfect eyes and delight in all things purely four.
You were perfectly, purely four. Our cups runneth over.
Yeah. So, it doesn’t really matter where we live, does it? We are together. And that is something I plan on thanking my lucky stars for every single day that we are granted this opportunity. Perspective.